Syndication Special Report: Talk is Cheap, but Payoffs are Huge

Shows Need Vision, Evolution and Charisma to Bring Back the Viewer

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At first blush, "The Tyra Banks Show" may not seem like a model of super strength among TV talk shows. After all, Nielsen Media Research ranked "Banks" No. 84 among all syndicated shows for the period of Sept. 18-Nov. 26.

But "Banks," from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, is a clear winner in Brad Adgate's book. The senior VP-research at Horizon Media, New York, notes that the median age of "Banks" viewers is 40.

"She doesn't do huge numbers, but she has a very young median age [for a talk show]," Mr. Adgate says. "That's what advertisers crave."

Coming up with a winning talk show that meets the needs of audiences, TV stations and advertisers is no easy feat these days. Bill Carroll, VP-director of programming at the station rep company Katz Television Group, points to research showing that 75 syndicated talk shows have been tried over the last decade. The fatality rate is high: There currently are about a dozen talk shows in syndication; four of them debuted last fall, and already one of those has been canceled.

But when they succeed, they can score big time. "Once you've found a personality ... these are franchises that last forever," says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, pointing to staples Maury Povich, Oprah Winfrey and Regis Philbin.


Ad executives and the production community cite specific traits that can turn a talk show into a winner.

Demos are, of course, key. However, "talk shows are really about good storytelling. ... But the energy and dynamics have really dialed up tremendously [in recent years]," says Terry Wood, president-creative affairs and development at CBS Television Distribution Group, who oversees production of "Dr. Phil" and "Rachael Ray."

"Oprah understands that every year the show has to be more invigorated than the year before to signal, 'I'm into this,' " Ms. Wood says, noting that every summer, Phil McGraw and his staff develop how his show should evolve over the next season.

Mr. Carroll says Regis Philbin, co-host of Buena Vista Television's "Live With Regis & Kelly," has mastered how to relate to his audience. "People want to tune in and just hear him tell you about what he did last night," Mr. Carroll says.

Successful talk shows don't always have to feature well-known hosts. After all, Ms. Winfrey wasn't well-known when her show debuted 20 years ago. But "You have to have a vision for the show and not play around once you get on the air ... Viewers are making decisions very fast," Ms. Wood says.

That's not only because viewers in general have many more kinds of media to choose from than before but because many women have kicked the traditional corporate lifestyle to become stay-at-home moms, with limited time for fluff television.

"There's a lot of guilt involved in watching daytime TV. People have so little time," says Hilary Estey Mc-Loughlin, who oversees shows such as "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Tyra Banks" as president of Warner Bros.' Telepictures. She notes that "takeaway information" on talk shows, such as how to solve a health problem, has become much more important as a result.

StarLink Worldwide, Chicago, and its creative partner Fallon, Minneapolis, played to that side of some talk shows for a campaign backing the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. They coined the word "Bahamavention." "It pokes fun at workaholics whose families worry about them, so we were playing off Dr. Phil saying [things like] 'You need to reprioritize your life, ' " says Miraj Parikh, associate director-broadcast investment group at StarLink. The Bahamas spots are running on "Dr. Phil," "Oprah" and "Ellen."

While the Bahamas campaign uses traditional 30-second spots, Mr. Parikh notes that because talk-show viewers are "smarter" these days, branded-entertainment deals are also on the rise.

One example of branded entertainment occurred last year on "Tyra Banks." "We partnered with [Kellogg Co.'s] Special K on something called 'The Prize Inside,' " says Michael Teicher, exec VP-media sales at Warner Bros. TV Group, which sells ad time for "Banks," "Ellen" and other Warner Bros. syndicated shows. "Special K partnered with Tyra Banks to create a national program where we followed the lives of four women." "The Prize Inside" segments were spread out over five months and chronicled the women's transformations with the aid of life coaches, trainers and the like.
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